Dress to impress middle classes

16th July 2004 at 01:00
Labour wants all pupils to wear uniforms in an otherwise individually tailored world. Michael Shaw reports

Calls for uniforms and house systems in every secondary school were among the rare surprises in Labour's five-year education plan.

The highlights of the plan had been widely trailed ahead of time - particularly proposals to expand the number of academies, give schools greater control over their finances and make it easier to gain foundation status.

Labour education ministers have said before they favoured school uniforms.

But they strengthened their commitment by including them on a list of "guarantees" for parents, aimed at wooing middle-class families.

The plan says in a section on secondary schools that the Government "will expect every school to have a uniform". However, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, admitted that it would be impossible for the Government to make them compulsory.

The Department for Education and Skills is also exploring ways to stop pupils from making false allegations about teachers.

Ideas being investigated include penalising the families of children who make false claims and setting up systems to spot malicious allegations more quickly. The plans are expected to be published in the autumn.

Mr Clarke gave his strongest backing yet to the model proposed by Mike Tomlinson in his inquiry into 14 to 19 education. He also announced that the DfES would be launching a review into 11 to 14 education which government sources said would be done in the light of the Tomlinson inquiry.

Mr Clarke stressed that local education authorities would continue to be important, despite plans to ring-fence funding to guarantee it is passed on to schools.

Local councils would have a "reshaped role as champions of pupils and parents", he said, and would take a lead on matters such as establishing extended schools. The plan says that by 2008 more than 1,000 primary schools will offer childcare from 8am to 6pm.

The strategy encourages headteachers to introduce a uniform because they "help to define the ethos of a school" and make pupils "ambassadors in the community".

However, uniform suppliers said they did not believe it would lead to a significant increase in business because the vast majority of secondary schools had them already. Neither the Government nor the Office for Standards in Education have figures to show the proportion which have uniforms. None of the top 20 performing local authorities knew of any secondary schools in their areas without them.

Successful schools which do without uniforms include the pound;10,000-a-year St Paul's girls school in London. Elizabeth Diggory, high mistress, said she was not sure the policy would work in all schools but felt it improved relations between her staff and pupils.

"Uniform can create aggro because the teachers have to enforce it," she said. "It can also create a distance between the teachers and pupils, a sense that they are on a different tier."

Labour party activists and trade unions are expected to challenge the Prime Minister over the plans to extend choice in education at the party's national policy forum at the end of this month.

Activists are frustrated that plans such as the expansion of academies have been announced without any debate by the party.

The Education Secretary also irritated fee-charging schools by announcing that the Government planned to establish a system of "independent specialist schools".

His comments referred to the expansion of academies and plans to make it easier for other secondary schools to gain foundation status.

However, fee-charging schools said the minister's choice of words was confusing because they have referred to themselves as independent schools since the 1960s. Mr Clarke denied his choice of words was misleading. "I would prefer it if private schools and fee-paying schools called themselves by those names instead," he said.

international 16

Letters 22

Department for Education and Skills: Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners is at www.dfes.gov.uk


For pupils

* Every pupil will have an education tailored to their needs.

* Better teaching and more interesting curriculum, with a review of the curriculum for 11 to 14-year-olds and more out-of-hours opportunities.

* Better transition between primary and secondary - with more information about pupils being passed between schools and house systems to make secondaries less daunting.

For parents

* More places in popular schools, and every secondary school refurbished or rebuilt.

* Better behaviour, with uniforms and a crack-down on bullying.

* Greater choice of schools, with all becoming specialist colleges and 200 academies in development by 2009.

* New providers, including parents, helped to set up new schools.

For schools * All secondaries have the option of becoming a specialist school.

* Three-year budgets and new freedoms to run their own affairs by applying for foundation status.

For teachers * "Excellent" professional development for all.

* Action to protect teachers from false allegations.

* Teachers' TV (see below left).

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